Quantitative Research on Front of Package Labeling
FDA has announced that it will be conducting an experimental study to explore consumer responses to various FOP nutrition labeling schemes.1 This research is the first step in FDA’s FOP initiative, which is focused on developing a standardized labeling system to help consumers with lower nutrition literacy quickly and easily identify foods that are part of a healthy eating pattern. The agency’s work would also implement one of the recommendations in the National Strategy for Nutrition, Hunger, and Health that FDA explore standardized FOP labeling approaches.2 The agency has not yet indicated whether it intends to pursue a FOP scheme that is mandatory or voluntary, interpretive or non-interpretive, nutrient-specific, or a summary scheme.
The consumer research will be informed by previous focus group testing conducted by FDA at the end of 2022, and will involve a subset of the FOP schemes reviewed by the focus groups. The FOP symbols used in the focus group testing can be found in Appendix A and include factual schemes that resemble an existing voluntary industry FOP labeling scheme, as well as interpretive schemes that characterize particular nutrients as high, medium, or low using the colors red, yellow, and green. Additionally, the schemes include a mix of nutrient icons and mini-Nutrition Facts Panel formats labeled as “Nutrition Tips.”
The conditions for the study include: (1) a set of draft FOP schemes, including “no-scheme” controls; (2) three types of mock food products (i.e., a breakfast cereal, a frozen meal, and a canned soup); and (3) a “no information” condition where no explanation of the FOP scheme is provided. Product perceptions, label perceptions, and purchase/choice questions will act as the measures of response in the experiment.
This study marks the next step in FDA’s exploration of FOP labeling, which to date has included reviewing literature on FOP labeling schemes and conducting focus groups to test FOP concepts, draft FOP schemes, and how consumers interpret FOP nutrition info.3 Through the notice, FDA is seeking comment on ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected. We anticipate that the FDA is working on an expedited timeline to explore FOP labeling given the speed with which FDA has conducted the work to date since the issuance of the National Strategy recommendation in September 2022.
Why it Matters
The research FDA intends to conduct would be a significant first step in the development of a standardized FOP labeling scheme, which would be a first from a US regulatory agency. To the extent FDA pursues an interpretive rather than strictly factual scheme, this would be a meaningful departure from FDA’s traditional approach to nutrition labeling.
Comments are due March 27, 2023. We encourage trade associations and individual companies to submit comments to FDA and are available to assist with such comments.
Please click here to view images of the FOP symbols included in FDA’s initial focus group testing. A subset of these symbols will be tested in the new consumer research.
Authored by Elizabeth Fawell, Veronica Colas, and Erin Pannek.
1 88 Fed. Reg. 5005 (26 January 2023). The notice was required under the Paperwork Reduction Act to give the public the opportunity to comment on the proposed information collection.
3 The literature review will be available on regulations.gov under Docket No. FDA-2023-N-0155. The Notice is available on regulations.gov at https://www.regulations.gov/document/FDA_FRDOC_0001-11942.